You’ve Got to be Adaptable and Learn to Compensate for Your Weaknesses

A while back I wrote a couple of posts on life and career success lessons I learned on the rugby pitch. This is another in that series. There are two pieces of advice today…

  • Be adaptable: learn to adapt to the situation,
  • Learn to compensate for your weaknesses.

I was a prop forward – a tight head prop to be exact. My main job on the rugby pitch was to anchor the scrum. This required a big, blocky body and lots of upper body and leg strength. I wasn’t one of the fast nimble guys who ran with the ball and scored a lot of tries.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t be completely without ball handling skills. Rugby is a fluid game. That meant that occasionally I would be on the receiving end of a pass. I also was called on to catch some kicks especially “up and unders”.

Most up and under kicks go to the forwards, for two reasons. First, the forwards are generally lined up closer to the kicking side. Second, and not insignificantly, a lot of forwards don’t have the best hands. These two factors result in most up and under kicks being directed at the forwards.

Early in my playing days, I dropped more than my share of balls kicked my way. In rugby when you drop a ball and it bounces in front of you, it’s a “knock on,” a minor infraction. Play stops, and the other side is awarded a set scrum – they get to put in the ball, which means that they are likely to win the possession.

After I played for a while, I realized that if you drop a ball and it goes behind you, there is no infraction. Dropping the ball is never a good idea, but if you’re going to do so, it’s better that it falls behind, not in front of you.

So I started catching high kicks over my shoulder. This small change had two positive effects. First, I was more sure handed, I dropped fewer balls when I turned sideways and cradled the ball as it fell into my arms. Second, when I did drop a ball, it fell behind me, allowing play to continue, and me to have a better chance of controlling the ball by picking it up or falling on it.

I got really good at catching high balls over my shoulder. My coach had me position myself in the center of the pack on all free kicks, that way I would be more likely to get in position to catch the ball and gain possession for our team. Every week, we practiced fielding free kicks. My job was to catch the ball. The rest of the forwards worked on coming to my support so we could secure possession and get the ball to our backs.

I was able to translate this rugby lesson into a career success lesson once I got into the business world. I became adaptable and I learned to compensate for my weaknesses. Here are a couple of stories to illustrate this point.

There are always jobs that no one really wants to do. In one of the companies where I worked, coordinating the annual United Way campaign was one of these jobs. The United Way was a big deal in this company. Senior leadership wanted 100% participation from employees. But nobody wanted the job of making that happen. After all, who wants to ask their coworkers for money? I didn’t.

But I saw this as an opportunity to showcase some of my leadership and sales skills. Coordinating the United Way effort wasn’t anywhere near what was in my job description, but I volunteered to do so one year, because it showed my adaptability. I was able to demonstrate some skills that fell outside of my normal responsibilities.

It worked too. I caught the eye of a Division President who attended one of my United Way presentations. He ended up offering me a job in working for him – all because I was willing to showcase my adaptability and move out of my comfort zone.

The second story involves compensating for one of my weaknesses.

I used to feel that it was important to make sure that I was heard in meetings. Sometimes all I did was restate something that had already been said. I thought I was contributing this way – you know, summarizing where we were. Other people saw me as someone who talked too much.

One day, one of my mentors took me aside and told me that I needed to be more judicious in what I said in meetings. He said that I was running the risk of getting labeled as a windbag, someone who spoke just to hear himself speak.

This floored me. At first I was upset. Of course I wasn’t being a windbag, I was trying to contribute to meetings. Then I calmed down and realized he had a point. As I thought back on the last couple of meetings I had been in, I realized that some of what I said didn’t contribute much.

I went back to my mentor and asked for his advice. He suggested that I do what he does – before I speak in a meeting, ask myself a question – “Will what I am going to say, move the discussion forward?” I began doing this in meetings – at first it wasn’t easy – and found that I made more on target comments and that my thoughts and suggestions were better received. Not only did I compensate for one of my weaknesses, I was able to turn it into a strength.

Two more life and career lessons from the rugby pitch – be adaptable, learn how to compensate for your weaknesses. Put these lessons to work and watch your career flourish.

Your career mentor,


PS: I write this blog to help people create the life and career success they want and deserve. Now I’m going one step further. I’ve created a membership site in which I’ve pulled together my best thoughts on success. And, as a reader of this blog, you can become a member for free. Just go to to claim your free membership. You’ll be joining a vibrant and growing community of success minded professionals. I hope to see you there.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.